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Sam Cane was unfairly cast in Richie McCaw's shadow for too long

Sam Cane of New Zealand looks dejected following the team's defeat following the Summer International match between New Zealand All Blacks v South Africa at Twickenham Stadium on August 25, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

I’ll remember Sam Cane as a thoroughly decent man.

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I hope his days involved with rugby – or in other aspects of public life – don’t cease once his time as an All Black officially comes to an end after this year.

Cane is someone with a lot to offer New Zealand, well beyond the realm of rugby.

I see Olympic gold medal-winning rower Mahe Drysdale running for the office of Mayor of Tauranga. Cane could do that and then some.

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I’m not sure why Cane continued his international rugby career as long as he did or why he hasn’t retired effective immediately.

After the head knocks he’s suffered, and the broken neck, no-one would have begrudged him putting his health first well before now.

Nor would he have been especially missed from the All Blacks in a playing capacity.

His retention as captain in recent years – and New Zealand Rugby’s apparent insistence that skippers only step down at a time of their own choosing – placed unnecessary scrutiny upon Cane.

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Many in the nation’s fanbase questioned his continued selection at openside flanker, which led to unfair criticism of the man himself.

Players don’t pick themselves. And, since the reign of Richie McCaw, our governing body has seemingly decided that captains are sacrosanct.

We saw it with Kieran Read and we continued the folly with Cane.

McCaw’s durability and sustained excellence were unique, but we seemed to believe his successors were cut from the same cloth.

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They weren’t and there’s no disgrace in that.

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Cane was a brave player. He put his head where others wouldn’t put their feet and I think we’d all commend him for that.

The fact his All Black career is now all-but over is unlikely to sadden anyone and I don’t subscribe to a view that the new coaching staff owe him anything.

It’s nice that Scott Robertson and Cane conversed over Facetime or Zoom or whatever before the retirement became public, but who cares whether the captain jumped or was pushed.

Cane is yesterday’s man, in an All Blacks sense, and this day should’ve come far sooner than it did.

I’d like that to be the lesson from his career.

That captains can actually come and go. That, yes, coaches and selectors do need to communicate changes in a respectful way when they believe a skipper’s time is done, but that these aren’t jobs for life.

This is just a sports team, after all.

I absolutely cringe at the way – particularly in the media – we react to the words and deeds of All Blacks coaches and captains.

The hushed tones, the nods of approval, the continued promotion of this nonsense that these men are somehow supernatural beings.

Cane always seemed a very natural and normal guy. He didn’t demand deference from anyone or project an image that he was better than the rest of us.

He was just a guy who loved rugby, was given quite a big job and was doing his best to live up to the expectations that came with it.

I’m not sure he ever achieved that. But that’s partly because our expectations have gone so far out of whack as a result of the career and success McCaw had.

In that regard, I thought Cane was among the more human and relatable All Blacks captains of my lifetime and why I think he still has a lot more to offer this country.

I wish him well in Japan and hope he can eventually leave the game on his own terms and not as a result of serious injury.

He’s carried himself with dignity, humility and class and those traits will stand him in good stead long after his playing days are over.

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16 Comments
J
Jon 32 days ago

McCaw’s durability and sustained excellence were unique, but we seemed to believe his successors were cut from the same cloth.
It’s easy to forget McCaw was just as heavily critiqued for the last two years of his career. The only real difference was his captaining criticisms and his playing criticisms happened at different times, where Cane was criticized for a few things in both areas for all of his last 4 years. This was also heavily influenced by another McCaw esque presence, in Ardie Savea, being in the team and pushed out of his original position. It could be said we essentially didn’t have the 3 prior years with Ardie as world player of the year because he was changing into this new role.
I say “original” position as despite him never coming out and saying his desire is to perform his role from, that I know of, clearly as part of a partnership with Cane as 7, I don’t think this was because he really wanted Cane’s playing spot. I think it most likely that it comes down to poor All Black management that those sort of debates weren’t put to bed as being needless and irrelevant. It has been brought up many times in past few months of discussions on articles here at RP, that early calls in WC cycles, to say pigeonhole an All Black team into being required to have a physical dynamo on defence at 7 (and ballplyaer at 8 etc) are detrimental. In the end we did not even come up against a team that threw large bodies at us relentlessly, like why we encountered in the 2019 WC semi final, at all in this last WC. Even then they couldn’t see the real weakness was defending against dynamic attacks (which we didn’t want to/couldn’t give 2019 England credit for) like the Twickenham Boks, and Irish and French sides (even 10 minutes of an English onslaught) that plagued our record and aura the last 4 years. It really is a folly that is the All Blacks own creation, and I think it pure luck, and that Cane was also such a quality All Black, that he was also became an integral part of stopping the side from getting run off the park. Not just rampaged.

The hushed tones, the nods of approval, the continued promotion of this nonsense that these men are somehow supernatural beings.
I bet this author was one of those criticizing Cane for coming out and speaking his mind in defence of his team that year. Despite the apparent hypocrisy I agree with the sentiment, but I can only see our last captain as going down the same road his two prior captains, Read and McCaw, have gone.
I am really for Cane becoming an extra member to each squad this year, June, RC, and November tours, and he is really someone I can see being able to come back into the role after 3 seasons in Japan. As we saw last year, we would have killed for someone of his quality to have been available rather than calling on someone like Blackadder. Just like the Boks did for 2023.

r
ryan 33 days ago

Good player, but how could anyone have filled RMCs shoes.? Also, I hope Razor implements better & indeed more legal tackling, the AB’s concede way too many cards. Looking forward to the new regime though.

J
Jon 33 days ago

Not sure I see the magic. Solid flanker but the aggression and lack of bending at the hips leads to boo boos

T
Tristan 33 days ago

I think this all came from Fozzie immediately anointing Cane as captain when he became coach, well ahead of when any team was to be named. Then he seemingly felt unable to retract the captaincy as that would have been an admission he was wrong initially. Sam Cane was a good AB and a good captain. Through his injuries and some loss of form he maybe didn't deserve selection but Fozzie couldn't ever make that hard call which led to Cane copping it.

N
Nickers 33 days ago

Which captains were not human?

T
Turlough 33 days ago

It left him open to savage sledging most memorably POMs ‘Sh1t McCaw’ comment which prompted a national NZ meltdown. Cane was later substituted in that game. He had some redemption in the RWC quartfinal against Ireland but unfortunately he will be remembered for torpedo-ing his team with that red card in the final with NZ already 12-3 down.

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